Two weeks ago, we here at The Wheelhouse Review unveiled our first ever readers poll. The stakes were simple but terrifying: if I won, Juliet had to watch and then write a review of the instant classic “The Expendables” (2010); if I lost, I had to do the same with the first of the insufferable “Twilight” series. Whether people were confused by the wording and voted “for” me by choosing the option that read “Ryan watches Twilight to learn you can be a 107-year old virgin with sex appeal,” or the more likely scenario, that I have a bunch of sadistic friends who share an unbridled enthusiasm for psychological torture of the cinematic variety, in the final tally I got crushed: 29-11. I tried going negative and calling Juliet’s patriotism into question (issue still unresolved). Then I tried going positive and doing the whole door-to-door politician act, complete with kissing hands and shaking babies, and that seemed to only make it worse. But a man is only as good as his word, so as promised, here’s my review of Twilight. Enjoy you cretins.
“Twilight” is a taboo-breaking, progressive film that both educates and titillates its viewers over the course of its 122 minute running time. Similar to what “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” did for the cause of interracial, necrophiliac romance–shown by the bond between the Haitian voodoo priestess and very-much-still-dead Bernie–”Twilight” shows us that love can exist between prey and reformed predator, mortal and immortal, pale and even paler. Most importantly, it shows how two potential lovers can overcome their glaring character flaws: Edward, whose vampiric nature causes him to bemoan that he is a “monster” who’s done unspeakable things in his past; and Bella, who for all intents and purposes, is a blithering idiot.
While I assume most of our readers here are Twilight aficionados who know the plot in all its detail, let me offer a summary of the first installment of the Twilight series before moving on to my pithy and insightful critiques. To set the mood for the movie, you may want to get out a few cloves of garlic. Or to truly get the full “Twilight” experience, just bang your head against the wall half a dozen times while holding your breath. Then repeat this several times until suspension of disbelief is medically achieved.
“Twilight” follows the typical storyline of some of our most treasured literary romances: Romeo and Juliet, Bert and Ernie, or Kim Kardashian and [insert celebrity here]. The formula goes as follows: boy (Edward, played by Robert Pattinson, known for his role in the straight-to-DVD movie Powder 2) meets girl (Bella, played by renowned cuckholdist Kristen Stewart); boy likes girl because she smells really, really good; girl likes boy because he’s got that hipster sexy pale/gaunt look down pat, plus he keeps saving her life every 10 minutes with suspicious, super-human strength; girl is suspicious of said life-saving and asks him how and why he did that; guy pushes girl away with cryptic one-liner; girl, predictably, wants him more after this rebuke and starts snooping around, including asking some friendly Native Americans who may have the inside scoop on what boy’s deal is (single? gay? immortal?); boy reiterates to girl to keep her distance not because he hates her but because he secretly really wants (to kill?) her due to her intoxicating musk (eau de humain); girl, despite above-mentioned idiocy, figures out boy is a vampire; girl confronts boy (“I know what you are!”); boy misses golden opportunity for classic comeback (“I know what your mom is!”) and caves in to girl in an embarrassingly short time; boy takes girl to nearby mountain to bare his soul (figuratively) and chest (literally), showing girl his “true, monsterific self” courtesy of a ray of sunshine (metaphor!); sun changes boy into hideous beast (he’s covered in diamonds! filthy, disgusting diamonds!); girl still says she loves hideous beast despite diamonds (a girl’s best frenemy); boy tells girl “I can’t be near you [or I’ll kill/eat you]; girls tells boy “I trust you [not to kill/eat me]; boy and girl embrace and make transition from casual dating/over-protective stalking buddies to official couple; girl meets boy’s family of reformed vampires (they keep kosher and don’t eat humans) who take her in and invite her to play baseball (an odd choice, but the sport does require bats! pun!); evil, non-reformed vampires (including a token black vampire) show up and ruin all the fun by wanting to eat girl; then a bunch of stuff happens that involves boy saving girl’s life again in a ballet studio full of mirrors (metaphor!); and like all teenage movies, it ends at the prom. And then, mercifully, fin.
That’s not to say the movie was all bad. It did, as I said above, have its progressive and educational moments. Aside from pushing the definition of traditional marriage to its trans-mortality extreme, it also smashes our pre-existing notions of vampires into tiny, delicious, chocolate cereal-shaped pieces. Like all red-blooded Americans, I always assumed that vampires were, well, after our red blood. But the Cullen family is actually a sect of reformed vampires who only eat animal blood. Human blood is still far more delicious, but they’re able to exert a degree of self-control and play nice with humans, thanks to the guiding ways of head of the household and reverse version of Dr. Kevorkian, Dr. Carlisle Cullen.
Carlisle saves a select, sexy few patients on their deathbed by going half-vampire on them: sucking enough blood from them that they ward off death and turn into immortal vampires, but pulling out at the last second so as not to drain them of all their blood and kill them (somewhat hypocritically, he preaches total abstinence from human blood to his rescued and reformed vampires, but I digress). Then you have the non-reformed vampires–the bad ones who show up later in the story and still hunt humans–who risk outing the Cullens and their band of merry immortals. Moral of the story: not all vampires are bad, so get to know them first and invite them to potluck dinners and whatnot before you start complaining about how the neighborhood has started going to pieces after all “those people” moved in, started hanging out on the stoop until all hours of the night, and how your favorite radio station switched over to an all Baroque-era chamber music format.
Speaking of lessons in vampire education, “Twilight” also breaks the traditional stereotype of vampires living in dark castles in the nether-regions of Romania, where they prance around in black capes between daylight coffin siestas and forays into the night via bat transformation. Instead, these vampires live in modern-style houses instead of castles, reside in Forks, Washington rather than Transylvania–possibly as dark and rainy as the traditional vampire headquarters, but at least with high school football and a prom committee–and have no need for coffins since they don’t sleep a wink. Also, instead of the lame “hey look, I turned into a bat” trick they have some serious superhero powers: superhuman strength, ability to fly, can run at mach-three speed, can see into the future (sort of), have one hell of a keen sense of smell, and most importantly, have the ability to bring Victorian-era sexy paleness back. Oh, and they’re also made of diamonds, so they’ve got that going for them too
With that said, there were a few parts of the movies that I found to be, well, sucktastic. In homage to the disjointedness of parts of the movie, I present them to you in (silver?) bullet points. Or is that for werewolves? Wooden stake points then:
- The Cullen family of vampires is actually the least creepy of the people in town. When Bella first arrives in Forks, she’s greeted by a bevy of townspeople and classmates who seem creepily happy to meet her. The waitress remembers her order from like a decade ago, the school newspaper wants to do a cover story about the “new girl,” and people go out of their way to be nice to her. One exception to this, and by far the best line of the movie, is when Bella first drives to school and parks the crappy truck her dad’s Native American friend gave to her. People stare of course, and one kid–who ends up almost running her over in the same parking lot until she is saved by super speedy/strong Edward–taunts her with this gem, “Hey nice ride!” A few people laugh, and then as they disappear from the scene as Bella walks into school you hear a faint but recognizable “Nice one!” off screen from one of her classmates. Brilliant. All in all, the town has a creepy, Pleasantville-type vibe to it, and her experience at the new high school is basically the opposite of “Mean Girls.” Speaking of the townspeople….
- With the exception of the Native Americans, how is it no one in town pieces together the vampire thing? Granted the kids in school point and whisper about the Cullen family to a degree, and hint to a few unsavory rumors about them (“eew they’re totally dating their adopted siblings!” “I heard one of them picks his nose and eats it!”), they seem utterly unable to piece together what’s pretty obvious even to a dullard like Bella. The question of how vampires are able to be outside and not immediately turned into dust is answered from the onset by the keen screenwriting that makes it clear that in Forks the weather is always cloudy with a damn good chance of rain, but later on we learn that whenever it’s nice out the Cullens get pulled out of school to go “hiking” or “camping” with their dad. Not a bad deal, like the kids whose super religious parents pulled them out of sex-ed in high school, but that doesn’t seem to raise any eyebrows save for Bella’s. Speaking of whom…..
- Bella takes the whole vampire thing way too easily. Setting aside the fact that the melanin and intellectually-challenged Bella is able to identify that Edward is a vampire from a google search and an “Idiot’s Guide to the Undead” book she picks up downtown, once she actually finds out he’s a vampire she’s completely cool with it. (Side note: where does she confront him with the knowledge that she knows he’s a vampire? Deep into the forest, where as we all know, no one can hear a tree fall, let alone a scream for help from an attack by the undead! At least she has that pepper spray her dad gave her…). Now I don’t claim to be an expert on women, but from my limited experience I’d assume that on the “freak out” scale of forgetting an anniversary to discovering your man has been cheating on you with his secretary for the past decade, finding out your potential beau is a vampire who wants to kill you and drain you of your blood would be off the charts. Instead, he’s the one who pushes her away, claiming he can’t be around her because he’s liable to lose control and, you know, possibly devour her. But not to worry, she trusts him. They’re one date into their relationship so that’s about when you get serious and make that leap of faith that your significant other won’t kill you, even though you smell really, really delicious.
- Aside from the whole vampire thing, the “weakness” that Bella needs to overcome is pretty lame. Any good love story needs obstacles. The simple boy meets girl; girl meets boy; boy and girl fall in love; “they live happily ever after” shtick does not a good story make. So you always have to throw in some obstacles. A former jilted lover who’s still in the picture (baby momma), a secret about one or both that they need to come to terms with (totally been faking it), an incident of infidelity that one swears was a one-time thing and has taught them their current lover is truly the one for them (I cheat because I love!), just something to grab the audience’s attention and draw the film out to its 90 minute minimum. Clearly in “Twilight” you have the whole vampire-human romantic tension, since it’s generally unwise to date that which you’d prefer to eat. But to add to this, Edward struggles with his vampiric nature. He’s ashamed of the things he’s done, repeatedly bemoans the fact that he’s a monster, and in the final scene has a serious test of his willpower when he needs to suck the poison Bella got from an evil vampire bite out of her without sucking all of her blood out and turning her into a vampire. (Spoiler alert! He holds back! Yay temperance!) But Bella’s obstacle: she’s clumsy. At various parts in the movie the screenwriting is at pains to show that Bella is all kinds of clumsy. The Bella-as-clumsy trope is, well, pretty clumsily presented. Personally I would have gone for Bella as vampire hunter who struggles with her lineage and duty as a descendant of Abraham Lincoln after falling in love with her prize catch, but the director probably wanted to avoid politics. Or character development. Whatever.
Well, there it is. My review of “Twilight.” I hope it was as fun to read as it was as painful to watch. Next up, my review of “Dinner with Andre,” written entirely in iambic pentameter!*
*Not really. But if I somehow get stuck with this in the next reader’s poll I’ll have no one to blame but myself. And possibly Kristen Stewart and her adulterous ways.